Terra Sigillata

Terrible news this morning, but not entirely unexpected given the complete ignorance of science in the case of medical personnel charged with intentionally infecting children with HIV in a Libyan hospital. The defendants have again been sentenced to death.

Luc Montagnier — the French doctor who was a co-discoverer of HIV — testified in the first trial that the deadly virus was active in the hospital before the Bulgarian nurses began their contracts there in 1998.

More evidence for that argument surfaced on December 6 — too late to be submitted in court — when Nature magazine published an analysis of HIV and hepatitis virus samples from the children.

Using changes in the genetic information of HIV over time as a “molecular clock,” the analysts concluded that the virus was contracted before the six defendants arrived at the hospital — perhaps even three years before.

Idriss Lagha, the president of a group representing the victims, rejected the Nature article, telling a press conference in London on Monday that the nurses had infected the children with a “genetically engineered” virus. He accused them as doing so for research on behalf of foreign intelligence agencies.

As most readers know, “Nature magazine” is the journal, Nature, one of the most prestigious, high-impact scientific publications in the world.

One would have thought that more political pressure could have been put on Libya given the preponderence of evidence supporting the innocence of the medics.

The long trial of the six foreign medical workers has held up the efforts of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s to rebuild ties with the West. Europe and the United States have called for their release, indicating that future relations with Libya would be affected by Tuesday’s verdict.

The defendants, a Palestinian physician and five Bulgarian nurses, still have the right to appeal to the Libyan Supreme Court.

Stay tuned here and elsewhere on ScienceBlogs and in the blogosphere for information on how we still might be able to help avoid the execution of these medical colleagues.